What Makes A Good Actor: Opportunity Knocks - Beverly Hills Playhouse

Opportunity Knocks, But Doesn’t Leave a Note

I detected a more-than-slightly moody vibe last Wednesday in class, and looking to debug the atmosphere, I noticed upon everyone’s return to the theatre after a break the following: three students, all veterans, easy on the eyes, talented, leading lights of the place, had spent the break sitting in their chairs, heads down, glued to their bloody iPhones, playing games. Hmmmm… Whether this was a symptom or cause of the vibe is immaterial. I believe the two exist symbiotically. (From Acting Class: “This computer jazz can affect you if you’re not careful, you can become this inert sponge – sitting for hours, ‘surfing,’ vacuous, soaking up millions of unrelated pieces of information, images, videos – jumbled, jangled and meaningless. Getting all into ‘data,’ rather than your imaginations.”) I believe that the general atmosphere of information hurled at you 24 hours a day, available in full-color megapixel glory via the iPhone (and its ilk), are affecting actual artistic ability and attitude. It’s tougher to get actors to dig in. But it also affects administration and common sense….

Recently, I’ve also witnessed four different script readings, two at the BHP and two outside. And at all four of these readings, there was a minimum of one actor on the stage, reading a lead part, who simply was not participating. Either they had clearly not read the script in advance, they weren’t giving their all, they weren’t enjoying it, they weren’t giving – or there was a very glib vibe where they were kind of entertained themselves by the humor (if the script was comedic), but not digging in with even 20% of the talent they have.  At each reading, actors on stage were whispering to each other or offering visual communication and jokes to each other during the reading. At each reading, there were actors who were late for the reading itself, and breezily unconcerned by that fact.

These two observations lead me to think about opportunity.  I think actors too often prepare for opportunity only when it wears a metaphorical t-shirt with “Opportunity” written on it: an audition, a meeting, something where clearly a job or representation is at stake. And outside that, there can be the tendency to check out. Some will check out because they’re with friends and so the standard of professionalism drops. But that’s where the standard should be raised.  Opportunity doesn’t put its name on a t-shirt. Opportunity doesn’t necessarily advertise on Actors Access. Opportunity doesn’t require a drive-on pass. Opportunity is often standing right next to you – you’ll only realize it in five years when the person you dismissed, ignored, the person you don’t meet or talk to because you’re playing a damned video game, or whose reading you fucked up by not really giving… this person is in charge of millions of dollars for a project. You must kill a script reading, so the director/producers remember you as someone who kicks ass in any circumstance. (Script readings should have no different ethic or participation than an actual performance – this seems to have eluded many actors in LA. I remember back in 2006 a reading of Burn This that was arranged by a friend of mine who wanted me to direct it. The two actors playing Anna and Pale – Katrina Lenk and Justin Cotta – were electric, sensational, eye-popping, and remained that way through rehearsals and production.  To this day, I think of Katrina and Justin every time I direct a show to see if there’s a role for them.)

Opportunity comes from getting your heads up from the damned iPhone and participating with your fellows in class, rehearsal, wherever. Yes, you must be social. No, you cannot check out and bury your head. Bury your head and play iPhone games at home. (I have occasionally banned all phones from the post-class get-together at Dresden, and once quite literally wrestled a student to the ground to try to extricate the phone from desperate, texting hands…..) Get this: the likelihood that you will get a meeting with Spielberg or Eastwood is far less than the likelihood that someone you know right now, who is sitting with you in class, will write / produce / direct / be involved in a project, and will look over a class list for possible actors. You need to be in that person’s headspace, and you won’t be there if you check out. You won’t be there if you’re late. You won’t be there if you’re moody at the wrong moment.  You won’t be there if you are self-involved and nonresponsive. Judgments are being made all the time about you. I had a conversation with the director of one of those readings, and he quite clearly and irritably named three actors in that reading whom he dismissed from consideration for that script, and for all other projects. Will this guy end up doing something really important? Don’t know. Can you afford to be wrong about that? So I think you’d better bet on yes. It’s a win-win conclusion. And it’s not like he told them that they fucked up – he was polite, thanked them, goodbye, talk to ya soon, etc. Those actors will never know the opportunities that just disappeared from their future – they just simply won’t exist. Step back a moment from the endless fascination with apps and games and bullshit on your iPhone and the obvious may suddenly be dreadfully clear: The damned thing isn’t ringing.

Opportunity knocks, but doesn’t leave a note.

8 thoughts on “Opportunity Knocks, But Doesn’t Leave a Note

  1. roddyjessup

    Ironically, If I spent nearly as much time and energy on my acting career as I did convincing other people about how great the iphone is and showing them all the cool apps and games to download I would probably have something very closely resembling the career concept that I just created on this really cool app called iCareer.

  2. allenbarton

    Fair point for the wrong reason. If you have an idea about how to maintain a blog without using a computer, I’d love to hear that. So it’s not necessarily hypocritical to use technology while trying to guard against its overuse, or in this case, its antisocial traps and how they lead actors to check out when they should check in. (You’ll notice the theatre is empty in my photo – my blog is about the theatre being full – picture everyone waiting for me to teach as my nose is in the computer, and then the pot and kettle would be chatting.)

    On the other hand, I’m a certified gadget freak. I own an iPhone, and it’s my third. Those who know me know I use it to email, text, and surf the web. I check Facebook on it. So I’m not preaching from a mountaintop of ascetic purity, nor would I presume that as the author I’m immune to or above my own entries. I ain’t.

  3. Ivor Biggen

    I love how the picture of Allen on the header for this page is him starring [sic – ed.] into his computer. Pot – meet kettle.

  4. Gabi

    Good point Allen. And also Ivor, teaching comes from experience. So Allen is able to perceive this and help others see it BECAUSE he has been there and done that. And also, teachers learn themselves AS they are teaching. That’s what keeps them interested. It helps them grow as well. I loved it, Allen and I can absolutely think of a recent instance where I was wooed by others lack of enthusiasm for a project (I think you know which one) which in turn, led me to kind of check out and not totally care about the end result. Not who I am or want to be. And no, I will probably never work with that director again, just as much my choice as theirs, I’m sure 🙂

  5. Rick Slater

    Great article Allen. You hit the nail on the head. A few years ago we did a reading for a script I wrote and read it in the Skylight. I picked actors from class that I thought might be good in some of the roles. Some took it seriously and did a great job, others were half assed and did a crap job. In a way it was a type of audition. I was looking at not only their acting ability but also their work ethic…

  6. Trudy Forbes

    Loved it, Allen!

    I’ve been involved with a number of readings and have been amazed at the lack of professionalism of many of the participants. I love doing these kind of readings, and always approach them as I would any other acting gig, given the limitations. If I’ve agreed to do it, then I’m obligated to give them something, or what’s the point? If they just wanted to hear it out loud, they could ask their neighbors, friends, family – anyone could do it. But I think they want some real sense of the piece and it’s possibilities. And yes… you are making connections. And let’s hope you’ll be remembered! As a pro!


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